Steam's new refund policy appears to be a step in the right direction for consumers, but has it also opened the door for rough treatment of smaller developers?
Valve yesterday revealed that buyers will be able to get a no questions asked” refund on any title that they have purchased within the previous 14 days and not played for over two hours. (Note, though, that the refund process does actually specifically ask the question why do you want a refund?”)
This marks a reversal on the controversial refund policy implemented in March.
Many big indie developers, including Thomas Was Alone's Mike Bithell and Nuclear Throne's Rami Ismail have backed the new scheme due to its bolstering of consumer confidence, others – including Brianna Wu – have asked whether it puts smaller games in a more perilous position.
The Steam policy is actively giving us a world where certain kinds of shorter experiences don't even figure in to the economic ecology that we imagine around games,” Epanalepsis creator Cameron Kunzelman told Kotaku. It's actively destructive to anyone wanting to make something smaller and content-driven, like concise narrative games.”
The wider fear is that those who buy smaller games such as Proteus, Gone Home or The Stanley Parable can buy the title, experience most of what is on offer and then claim their money back.
The potential issues don't stop there, however. Currently only those who have purchased a title can place a review, but this new policy could pave the way for ‘review bombing' – that is, an organised group buying copies of a game by a creator that has angered them, then posting reviews and requesting a refund.
There's also a potential problem for DRM-free games as there doesn't appear to be an obvious mechanism to stop buyers copying the game files and then requesting a refund.
Valve has said it will monitor the refunds procedure for any potential abuse.
Steam refund changes look to be a very cool thing.. I dig players coming to my games confident and comfortable. I'll earn your business.— Mike Bithell (@mikeBithell) June 2, 2015
The refunds are a good step for Steam, the old refund process was convoluted and ridiculous. This will generate some consumer confidence.— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) June 2, 2015